WARNING: Bloody scenes.
Charlotte witnesses Richard’s handiwork.
For previous episodes of Victorian Mistress see the Weekly Serial page.
London – 1840
Mrs Stapleton was on her knees at the bottom of the stairs scrubbing the floor. Housekeepers didn’t scrub floors, maids did.
There was blood splattered on the boards beside her and smeared on the banister.
I shut the front door. ‘Whose blood is that?’
She brandished the scrubbing brush at me. ‘This is your fault. This never happen before –‘
I shoved passed her and ran up the stairs. ‘Bran?’
The door to the bedroom was locked. It was never locked. I’d never even seen the key.
‘Bran?’ I banged on the door.
There was a pause. ‘I’m having a bath. Give me a few minutes.’
‘Open this door, Bran,’ I shouted.
He didn’t reply. I got my lock picks out of my boot was through in two ticks.
Bran’s back was bloody, torn by a whip. The lashes went across, not down like his scars. Somebody had done it to him, while he was on the ground, maybe cowering. Richard, I was sure.
He closed his eyes. ‘Don’t look.’ His blood soaked shirt was in his hands and there were bruises on his chest and stomach so large and dark a human would be dead, but Richard had been careful not to mark his face.
I shut the door.
Mrs Stapleton had made it to bottom of the stairs with her scrubbing, he must’ve had time to heal and vampires healed fast. What had he looked like before?
Sitting on the edge of the bed I pulled off my boots and ignored the tools that fell out. ‘You need blood.’
‘I just need a bath,’ he replied.
‘If you can barely get your shirt off how do you plan to get in and out?’
No amount of persuasion would make Bran feed from my arms or shoulders where people might see the marks when I wore dresses, so I wiggled out of my trousers then settled back against the headboard.
‘You gave me your blood,’ I said.
‘You could’ve died.’
‘And what if you lose control and eat someone?’ I took my knife from my sleeve and touched it to the skin on my thigh.
‘Not there,’ Bran said, limping over. ‘You’ll bleed to death.’
I knew that. If you were going to carry a knife it was a good idea to learn where not to stab yourself, but I didn’t have to mention that. I flipped the blade over and offered him the hilt. ‘Then you’d better do it to make sure I don’t hurt myself.’
He took the knife and looked down at it. ‘What if I hurt you?’
‘You won’t.’ I bent my left knee and tapped the inside of my thigh. ‘I trust you.’
He knelt between my legs, knife loose in his hand, and stared at the sun deprived skin of my thigh.
‘Staring at it won’t get anything done,’ I said.
He bent so close I could feel his breath against my skin and, for a moment, I thought he was going to bite me, but that was something else he wouldn’t do.
The blade nicked my skin and I hissed.
‘Sorry,’ Bran murmured and handed the knife back to me.
‘Stop apolo –’
His arm snaked around my back and the other hooked my thigh, pulling my leg so tight to his mouth I could’ve counted his fangs without looking, I decided not to. Instead I focused on the warmth of his mouth, the tug of each suck, the caress of his tongue, and the scrape of his stubble. If I hadn’t been fully aware he was glugging from my thigh like it was a bottle it might’ve been erotic.
I rested my hand on his head, and thought very hard about relaxing, which defeated the purpose. ‘You look like you went through a factory machine. Was it Richard?’
He paused and glanced at me.
‘Josef told me. I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell you but that kind of talk isn’t my strong suit.’ I nudged his head back towards the cut.
He went back to sucking on my leg as soon as his lips touched. He never given my blood a second glance before.
My old anger stirred but I pushed it down.
A bone crunched, then another. The wounds on his back throbbed as the skin regrew. I touched the fresh pink skin that marked the lashes. I’d seen him heal before, but that had been scratches from my fingernails; once I’d scored all the way from his shoulders to his arse, but it wasn’t comparable.
He stopped and rested his forehead against my thigh, breathing heavily. ‘He’s never come here before, normally he summons me.’
I ran my fingers through his hair.
He exhaled, shaking beneath my touch. ‘He said I’d forgot my place and I needed reminding.’
‘Because you killed Jack,’ I murmured.
Bran raised his head.
‘Waiting is the worst part,’ I added without looking at him.
‘You’ve known all this time he wasn’t going to let you off and you didn’t say a word,’ I said.
‘What good would it do?’
I rubbed my forehead but it didn’t enlighten me.
‘You’re angry,’ he said and retreated to his side of the bed.
‘Not at you. I should’ve… Damn it, I should’ve known…’
‘You couldn’t have.’
I knew he was right, I’d been short of the puzzle pieces to work out the inevitable conclusion. Then, when I did, I’d been so busy thinking about the knowing that I didn’t consider what vitriolic maker might do. Like a fool I’d taken it on faith when Josef told me Bran would be fine. I wanted him to be fine.
I cupped Bran’s face and kissed him softly. He tasted coppery, I ignored it and wrapped my arms around him. We lay back on the bed but it wasn’t a rip-off-clothes-for-passionate-sex moment.
‘Wait a moment,’ he whispered and pulled away enough to put his thumb in his mouth and prick it with his canine. ‘I took too much, this’ll help.’
I opened my mouth to argue before deciding against it, he’d had a bad enough night without me complaining over a few drops of blood he meant well by. So I took his hand and put his thumb in my mouth. The way he looked at me anyone would think it was something other than his thumb. Unless he was still hungry and it was something else he was thinking about, for all I knew my blood was ambrosia.
At that thought I took his hand away from my mouth. I didn’t mind him feeding from me, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what I tasted like.
He lay down beside me, all hungry thoughts forgotten and replaced by weariness. ‘I want to keep you safe.’
‘Secrets don’t keep me safe, Brandon,’ I said and caressed his back. My fingers were certain they found new scars though the lingering bruises said he hadn’t finished healing.
‘I didn’t mean to lie to you,’ he whispered. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Can I hold you?’ he asked.
Rather than point out he did that most nights I snuggled into his chest and tucked my head under his chin. He held me close, pressed his face to my hair and stayed there trembling.
Richard was a dead man… a deader one.